She was victimized by more than her cancer.
When a 36-year old woman gets an aggressive form of breast cancer, she reaches out to others via her blog, CatsNotCancer:
Valerie’s posts were reposted, commented on, circulated around online cancer support groups. CatsNotCancer quickly gained more than 2,100 followers on Tumblr, partly because of her content and partly because Valerie took the time to respond to everyone who left messages on her blog looking for guidance, help, or empathy.
That’s how she met Beth three months later, in December 2010.
"She was a fellow blogger who introduced herself and said she was going through treatment for lymphoma," Valerie recalls. "I had just undergone my fourth round of chemo and I was feeling really sickI had no energy, and my mood was in the dumps. It was an accomplishment to put up a blog post during the day."
Nevertheless, she responded to Beth’s overture of friendship, and for the first week, their communication was benign. The 19-year-old Wisconsin native, who appeared physically healthy in photographs, talked about her daily struggles with balancing lymphoma treatments and college classes (she wanted to become a psychologist), and the two talked companionably about their favorite TV show, Lost.
When Beth confessed that she was pregnant after being raped by a relative and said she felt "mortified", Valerie began to get suspicious about her stories.
But while Beth e-mailed daily updates on her mortifying pregnancy"Aborting it is what [my doctor] would recommend his daughter to do. He doesn’t think I could handle it mentally or physically. Blah blah."Valerie contacted her own oncologist about the content she’d read on Beth’s blog. She remembers one about Beth throwing up blood between classes at school, then skipping to the hospital to get a five-unit blood transfusion. "My doc was like, ‘There’s no way in hell that’s happening,’" Valerie says. An adult has 11 to 13 units of blood in their body, total, and from the pictures she’d posted, Beth was a petite woman. If she’d lost half the blood in her body, she’d die, not be home in time to blog about it before dinner.
Nor would the average lymphoma patient have the energy to be a full-time student while undergoing treatment, or risk exposing herself to hundreds of germy students while actively being treated for cancer of the immune system.
But Valerie didn’t confront Beth with suspicions that she was faking her sickness. Instead, to preserve her own health and sanity, she abruptly stopped answering Beth’s e-mails, texts, and phone calls. "Her lying was so alien as a concept, the idea of outing her horrified me," she says. "Part of me thought, ‘There’s something horribly wrong with her, and if she is being abused, I don’t want to make life harder on her.’"
In response, Valerie says Beth went "totally apeshit."
That’s how Valerie encountered another sick woman, with a different disease, called Munchausen syndrome.
Munchausen syndrome takes its name from an 18th-century German baron who was famous for embellishing tales of his military exploits to anyone who’d listen. But it wasn’t until 1951 that Baron Munchausen became widely associated with another crop of pathological liars: people who go to incredible lengths to fake illness or psychological trauma for the express purpose of attracting medical attention and sympathy from other people. Munchausen sufferers don’t just shave their heads and say, "Look! Cancer!" They alter their medical records, starve themselves, install catheters and chemo ports, even convince doctors to perform unnecessary surgeries on themanything to legitimize the fantasy of their sickness.
Read the entire story: The Lying Disease. Why Would Someone Want to Fake a Serious Illness on the Internet? The Stranger>>
The hero of the story, on Flickr>>